Ascension of the Lord. The end of the World.
May 12, 2013 Today, feast of the Ascension of the Lord, let us reflect upon what the creed says about this mysteries: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead”.
1. He ascended into Heaven
“"So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God." (Mark 16:19) Christ's body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection”. But during the forty days after “his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity. Jesus' final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven” (659). There is a difference “in manifestation between the glory of the risen Christ and that of the Christ exalted to the Father's right hand, a transition marked by the historical and transcendent event of the Ascension” (660).
The Ascension, therefore, is this “irreversible entry” of the humanity of Jesus in the Glory of the Father, the full manifestation of the glory of his body, the fulfillment of God’s plan in him.
“This final stage stays closely linked to the first, that is, to his descent from heaven in the Incarnation. Only the one who "came from the Father" can return to the Father: Christ Jesus”. So, the first reason of the Ascension is to give us hope: “Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the "Father's house", to God's life and happiness. Only Christ can open to men and women such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he […] has preceded us” (661).
Another reason for the Ascension is the intercession of Christ with the Father on our behalf: “Jesus Christ, the one priest of the new and eternal Covenant, "entered, not into a sanctuary made by human hands. . . but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf." (Heb 9:24)” (662)
2. And is seated at the right hand of the Father
“Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: "By [the words] 'the right hand of the Father' we understand the glory and honour of divinity, where he who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God […] is seated bodily after he became incarnate and his flesh was glorified."” (663). “Being seated at the Father's right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah's kingdom” (664). The glory that Jesus has today obtained in his body is the same glory that we will obtain on the last day. He is not the only one, he is the first; he is the beginning, as the principle and cause of our own glory. That is why the Catechism speaks of inauguration: it is a fulfillment for Christ, but it is only the beginning of our own participation in that fulfillment.
3. He will come again in glory
Christ is already king: “Christ's Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God's power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth” (668). His kingdom is already inaugurated in the world: “Since the Ascension God's plan has entered into its fulfillment… the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect."” (670).
But that kingdom is still not fulfilled: “Though already present in his Church, Christ's reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled "with power and great glory" by the King's return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers”.
The glorious advent of Christ, the hope of Israel
“This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment [nobody knows when], even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are "delayed"” (673). There are, however, two signs that will precede the end of the World: the entrance of the Jews in the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus (Cf. 674 and especially Rom 11:12-25), and “The Church's ultimate trial”: “Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.” (675)
The treatise on the Antichrist is also in this section. His “deception already begins… every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment” (676). “The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven.” (677). History will have a happy end, but we have to be ready for battle in the meantime.
4. To judge the living and the dead
“When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each person according to his or her works, and according to his or her acceptance or refusal of grace” (682). There are fourteen quotations of the Scriptures regarding the final judgment. “By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one's works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love” (679) Other six quotations of Scriptures.
It doesn’t look very “popular”, surely, but the judgment must not be taken superficially. Those who don’t want to be good people in this life are not able to see God in Heaven, because they don’t love God, not because God does not love them. It is impossible to enter in communion with God (this is “Heaven”) if we don’t love him. At the same time, the judgment implies that I am free and God is just; that if I strive with all my heart to love him and my neighbour, I will be rewarded, I will deserve my happiness, but not if I didn’t love. It is a good news for the good, not a cause of fear.
Where do you go Lord? “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2)
Why do you go? “Because if I don’t go, the Paraclete will not come to you” (John 16:7).
Can we go with you? “I go to prepare a place for you… I will come back to take you with me, so that where I am, you may also be” (John 14:2-3).
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! “I’m coming soon!” (Rev 22:20).